Ann Arbor is known for many things. A year doesn't go by without Tree Town ranking in the top 20 of at least a dozen "Best of” lists: it's one of the best cities to live in Michigan, in America, for millennials, for entrepreneurs, for women in the work force, for college grads and for young families. It's one of the most walk-able, most intelligent, most well-read and most creative cities in the country. And, of course, Ann Arbor is an unmatched college football town.
But there's another, lesser-known claim to fame that residents of Ann Arbor should be proud of: We're a book town.
Now-defunct national bookseller Borders first opened in Ann Arbor. But even before--and now after--Borders, Ann Arbor has maintained a vibrant book culture that I am confident contributes to the city's inclusion on so many 'Best of' lists.
The earliest city directories from the 1860s list no less than three bookstores each year, and at the peak in the 1980s there were over twenty independent bookstores operating in Ann Arbor. Today, in 2016, at a time when big box and independent bookstores alike are facing mounting challenges ( including the misconception that “the printed word is dead”), Ann Arbor is home to eleven independent bookstores with rumors swirling of a twelfth in the pipeline. Each of these bookstores has its own following and each one contributes to the culture of Ann Arbor.
Crazy Wisdom Bookstore has been serving the holistic community for almost thirty-five years, and West Side Book Shop and Dawn Treader have been bringing unique and rare books to Ann Arbor for over forty years. We have a rare and used bookstore that specializes in American and European history (Motte & Bailey) and one that is bursting at the seams with memorabilia and ephemera (Kaleidoscope), and Nicola's Books remains the largest general independent bookstore in the city. Every single one of these bookstores was in business when Borders was in town, and each continues to thrive today. In 2013, as if in acts of defiance to the belief that nobody reads physical books anymore, Ann Arbor gained two new general independent bookstores: the hip downtown bookstore Literati, and Bookbound, the thoughtfully curated community bookstore on the Northside.
And, I would be remiss to not mention the other organizations who contribute to Ann Arbor's book culture. Arthur Nusbaum's Third Mind Books specializes in beat literature and ephemera and sells exclusively online, as does Garrett Scott, Bookseller, who specializes in rare works of Americana, literature and religious thought of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Ann Arbor is also a book scavenger's dream and much can be found for a bargain from non-profit book resellers: Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library Book Shop, the Kiwanis Thrift Sale, PTO Thrift Shop, the ReUse Center and the Salvation Army, as well as for-profit Treasure Mart. And of course we should all be very proud of our vibrant and ever evolving library system!
Without a doubt, Ann Arbor is a book town and a book lover's destination; we should all be spreading the word! So the next time you find yourself on vacation, and are asked about your opinion of Wolverines starting line up, you can mention that Ann Arbor is also known for its dynamic book culture and share why they should plan a visit. I know I will.